The winter season for exhibitions in Palm Beach County likely was one of the most provocative and memorable from over the past decade, with several new galleries moving into our vicinity. Respected and familiar names included Pace, Paula Cooper, Acquavella, and Lehmann Maupin, as well as the renowned Sotheby’s with a gallery that showcased works of incredible stature. Under normal circumstances and pre-Covid complications, the season would be coming to a close by early June, but clearly, that is not the case this year. We can all rejoice and certainly benefit from the ongoing vitality of these great showplaces that will continue to present exhibitions during the summer, a departure from the past practice of simply closing down until autumn.
Local galleries are now heating up to match the rising temperatures that we know are headed this way. The mighty Norton Museum of Art has a lively summer schedule and a host of other galleries, even on Worth Avenue, are staying open due to the unexpected migration from northern states, especially New York City residents who are now calling the Sunshine State home.
A grand new exhibition space that has provided amazing energy to the downtown West Palm Beach scene is the impressive gallery within The Ben, which is located on the downtown waterfront. The Ben gallery space has built a respectable beachhead with memorable shows that take advantage of the hotel’s unusually high ceilings and spacious walls that stage an ideal exhibition area for hanging large works as well.
Opening this week at The Ben hotel gallery are colorful abstract paintings that celebrate the natural beauty of flowers created by local artist Carol Calicchio. Every artist is determined to find a comfortable niche within the creative process that seems like a genuine fit between image and idea, and Calicchio definitely has discovered common ground in which to plant illustrative seeds that eventually are manipulated into painterly flowering bouquets and often seem to explode in mid-air like dramatic fireworks high in the sky on the Fourth of July.
There is a long and proud tradition of artists who found inspiration through deciphering the aesthetic values of colorful floras, and it is clear that Calicchio has achieved her own signature style interpreting flowers in the tradition of Monet, Matisse, Klimt, Van Gogh, and Emil Nolde, as well as notable female painters like Georgia O’Keeffe, Rachel Ruysch and Judith Leyster. This collection of creative energies shares a common denominator and vision by interpreting an organic flowering plant that has been an ongoing muse to artists for hundreds of years.
The symbolic language of flowers has taken on an important perspective for artists who were fascinated with the manipulation of a blooming composition in all its glory and were recognized for this focus for centuries in many countries throughout Europe and Asia. Nearly every sentiment imaginable can be expressed with flowers, from happiness to sadness. The orange blossom, which also is synonymous with Florida, refers to chastity and loveliness, while the red chrysanthemum means “I love you.” This visual language of flowers even plays a large role in William Shakespeare’s works as well as in mythology, folklore, and sonnets. Plays by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese are peppered with flower and plant symbolism, and for good reason. Learning the special meanings of flowers became a popular pastime during the 1800s. Nearly all Victorian homes had guidebooks for deciphering the “language” of flower power although the definitions shifted depending on the source. It was up to the artists of the time to invent handsome methods of interpretation.
Calicchio has created her own flowery message that offers the viewer the opportunity to dissect and interpret imagery that goes back to this era, where bouquets of flowers also were used to deliver coded messages that could not be spoken aloud. Of course, many of these obscure meanings have changed over time but the quote “say it with flowers” remains a thoughtful communicative tool, especially on canvas. Flowers provided an incredibly nuanced form of communication, with some plants, including roses, poppies, and lilies, articulating a wide range of emotions based on their color alone. So, examining a typical painterly artwork from Calicchio a viewer can interact with the canvas surface to prompt their own interpretive and appreciative response.
The artist’s ambitious plans demonstrated in this exciting show to continue exploring the emotional properties of flower shapes extend a personal challenge to the artist to investigate and resolve. Considering that there are literally hundreds of flower categories from A to Z that signify everything from pride (amaryllis), inspiration (angelica), preference (apple blossom), and signs of love (aster), to truth and justice (black-eyed Susan), humility (bluebell), love (rose), remembrance (rosemary), loyalty and modesty (violet) and thoughts of absent friends (zinnia), Carol Calicchio as an artist explorer has a virtually unlimited supply of flower varieties to choose from and develop, each with their own double metaphorical meaning and personality that she integrates into each rosy composition.
With genuine love and appreciation for the perceived aroma, shape, natural colors, and historic symbolism of beautiful blossoms, Calicchio has uncovered a wide-open path of imaginative opportunities for creating her own recognizable brand of documenting expressionist interpretations of flowers. She has produced a charming full bloom magical flower garden with her exhibition currently on view at The Ben hotel gallery in West Palm Beach.
The exhibition continues through July 1, 2021. For more information on the artist: www.carolcalicchioart.com The Ben hotel is located at 251 N Narcissus Ave, West Palm Beach, 33401.
—Bruce Helander is an artist who writes on art. He is a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Art Economist magazine.
Carol Calicchio’s magical flower garden at The Ben Hotel Fine Art Gallery